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Reading for profit


More positively, there is room for reminder that nearly all of us would be the better for a bigger ration of good reading, definitely designed to further one's grasp of the Truth and to increase appreciation and understanding of Holy Scripture.


Some put their exhortation rather crudely this way: "Read the 'pioneers', the only books worth reading!" And in response to such urging many a well-intentioned reader has started in manfully on Elpis Israel or Phanerosis, only to come to grief (yes, grief!) before fifty pages have been mastered. The ratio of those who have finished Eureka to those who have started it must be a very small fraction indeed.


Yet there are very simple devices to save one from the weariness of spirit, which can come to regard such an assignment as drudgery. One is - and I have never ceased my thanks to a very fine old brother who put me on to this - to read two pages a day. Just two pages, and then put the book down before concentration begins to flag. Agreed, there is a certain loss through discontinuity, but this is not as great as might be thought, and the gain of steady unremitting progress through a difficult but worthwhile book more than compensates.


Another sound idea is - never to read such volumes without pencil in one's fingers. Readiness to annotate makes for mental alertness, and notes in the margin facilitate the recapture of the outstanding ideas.


Our own classics


In the field of Bible exposition the constant employment of that word "pioneers", usually restricted to two, three, or perhaps four writers, has done harm as well as good, by its implication that all "sub-apostolic" writers in our community are necessarily as inferior as the sub-apostolics of the second century inevitably and quite palpably were.


Certainly, Christendom Astray should be compulsory reading (at maybe three pages a day) for all Christadelphians. That book - 23 year old R. R. never wrote anything better! - may be a bit dated in its zealous tackling of doctrinal problems which are not so pressing today, but it is, without question, full from beginning to end of fine foundational material. There may be, here and there, expositions of obscure passages which do not commend themselves to modern judgement, but there is no getting away from it that this is incomparably our finest survey of basic truth.


There are plenty of other books in our steadily increasing Christadelphian catalogue which are worth anyone's attention - such works as Islip Collyer's "Guiding Light" (it was pure inspiration that made someone give me a copy on my 21st birthday), John Carter's "Parables" and "Oracles" (both of them packed with good stuff, yet somehow allowed in recent times to fall into obscurity), "Guided by the Star" (wise and gracious reading from the pen of a wise and gracious man C. A. L. ). These are just a few samples that come to mind out of a fairly long list.


It has to be admitted, however, that most Christadelphian reading is fairly hard work, calling for the "two pages a day" regimen. Our writers have so concentrated on sound ideas that they have neglected the second great commandment for their ilk: "Whatsoever thou writest thou shalt frame to be read with interest.” Our speakers and writers alike seem to find dulness a virtue - a sharp contrast with Holy Scripture where it is not possible to find six dull books in all the sixty-six. Whom have we had besides three or four familiar names with the ability to carry the reader with them?


A sense of judgement


Whilst undoubtedly there is need in these days to urge renewed acquaintance with our Christadelphian standard works, there is surely no need to issue a reminder that we are not J. W's swallowing hook, line, and sinker every pronouncement that issues forth in book or magazine from Brooklyn, New York. The power of individual judgement is a precious right of every true disciple of Christ. And, outside the safeguarding boundaries of our First Principles, which all have given ready assent to in their baptism, there is ample room for divergence of opinion; e. g. in the field of prophecy, or the interpretation of Bible types and some Bible characters. So you are not called upon to accept every opinion or interpretation which you come across just because they present themselves with the authority of print (e. g. this chapter!). Even your Christadelphian mentors, big and small, need to be weighed and assessed. None of them is without error, but neither is any of them always right. The infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture does not belong to our time.


This warning is much more needed whenever you dip into the writings of non-Christadelphian authors. It is easy to be on one's guard against the howlers in dogma confidently perpetrated by Victorian commentators. It is not so easy to insulate one's thinking from the pretentious glibness and slack handling of Scripture text which so often characterises the modern evangelical. The blind and the deaf can pick out the speaking brethren who fall for this kind of thing.


The modernist critical school should be left severely alone. These men, who pretend to an honesty they do not have, are enemies of the Bible. Claiming to be its friends, they assume a sublime superiority over men who wrote "Thus saith the Lord", and in that spirit they coolly set about putting them straight. To be sure, they have scholarship, lots of it. But their basic assumptions about Holy Scripture, and even about the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, are wrong. So it cannot be said too strongly to the rising generation: Let them alone! For, if you follow a blind leader, you will by and by find his blindness infectious.

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15. A-B-C


"PURE religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).


Few simple straightforward Bible passages have been more misunderstood than this. The words are commonly read as meaning that doing good to one's fellows in such practical ways as these is the very essence of true Christianity. In this sense the words are often quoted by those who rate practical benevolence high and who set faith and sound doctrine low in their list of priorities.


A proper understanding of the word "religion" (thrēskeia) helps to a more accurate appreciation of the apostle's exhortation. It describes not the pith and marrow of godliness but the outward forms of religious practice; not the flesh and juice of the fruit but the outer skin: "worship as expressed in ritual acts" (Souter), "religion in its external aspect" (Hatch). In other words, James is emphasizing that one who finds little room in his life for the care of orphans and widows and for guarding against worldly contamination has not yet learned his spiritual ABC. These are exercises in godliness of a most elementary and obvious character.


Behold, then, how in the average Christadelphian ecclesia this principle of Christian living has been stood on its head!


The young and the old


It is tacitly assumed that those best qualified for such activity as visiting the sick and afflicted and downhearted are the middle-aged and the elderly. By common consent the "visiting brethren" deputed by the ecclesia to take care of such responsibilities are those who normally can be assumed to be One recalls an ecclesia (it was years ago now) in which a young brother of 18 or 19 took upon himself to visit systematically the aged and lonely. He would drop in for a short while, chat about health or the garden or last Sunday's meeting, read a chapter of Scripture and talk about that as well as he knew, would perhaps do some simple job that needed attention, and then away before his presence became a burden. He was learning his ABC, and finding pleasure in it.


But the sharpest memory attached to this reminiscence is that by degrees the ecclesia got to know about this and marvelled at it - that one so young should choose to take on himself such a duty which none of his age-group had even got round to thinking about!


And so it would have been amongst the young folk in many another ecclesia. There is a great gaping hole here in our Christadelphian way of life. We have tacitly allowed to grow up a tradition that young inexperienced brethren and sisters are not fit and proper persons for activities of this kind. Instead we have helped to nurture a generation of good-time youngsters who would be horrified to have the word "selfish" applied to them, but who are certainly going all out to qualify for the alternative label: "Self-centred.”


Happily such strictures as these are not universally true. One recalls with pleasure a splendid example of a different sort.


An aged sister lived alone in rather humble surroundings. One Friday evening a young brother drove up, and took her off to spend a comfortable restful weekend in one of the finest homes in the ecclesia. As soon as she was off the premises, a squad of the ecclesia's young people descended on her home, and proceeded during the rest of Friday and Saturday to transform the place. Carpets were shaken and cleaned. Floors were scrubbed. Cupboards were emptied, re-lined, and made tidy. A rather shabby room was papered and painted. Furniture was spruced up. The garden was tidied. In fact, every job of that kind that could be done in the time was done. And then on Sunday evening, the rather dazed but appreciative occupant was returned to her home to enjoy with gratitude all that had been done in her absence.


One wonders how many ecclesias there are where such a blitz might similarly take place.


Indeed, such activity might well go further. Suppose a local welfare officer were to be approached by one of our youth group leaders: "I have here a team of x youngsters - teens and early twenties - who are willing to lend a hand with any welfare work needing to be done.” It is difficult to believe that such an offer would be received with anything but open arms.


Of course, it is possible, if one is so inclined, to envisage sundry disadvantages or snags about an activity of this kind, but hardly such as would veto it altogether. There is such a thing as being over-cautious about a new venture. Not infrequently, alas, we have proved ourselves more adept at saying "No" than at saying "Why not?"

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A duty for all


The emphasis here so far on visiting and helping being done by the young folk is not intended to put their elders out of business. God forbid that such should ever be! Ideally, the expression of fellowship by visiting and kindly acts should never be regarded as the prerogative of any age group.


It is even arguable that the appointment (in most ecclesias) of official visiting brethren and sisters has done more harm than good. True, in one respect such an arrangement has meant efficiency in the supply of prompt aid and comfort where such have been necessary. But on the other hand this system has very often encouraged the rest of the ecclesia to assume that the provision of help and fellowship for those who might need or appreciate them is none of their business. Those specially deputed will take care of such responsibilities.


This is not a state of affairs to be contemplated with any tranquility of spirit. Ideally the well-being of the sick, aged and lonely should be shared by all. We have gained on the swings, but in the process have we lost on the roundabouts?


Would that in every ecclesia and every age group there were more examples of this sort: I was chatting with a brother whom I had known for nearly fifty years, and it cropped up (very casually) in the conversation that for many years he had never let a week go by without visiting someone who would be all the better for a visit! And all that time I had never had any inkling that this was a normal part of his way of life!


Suppose that ten per cent of all his brethren and sisters had followed such a pattern of quiet unselfish dedication. Then what a vast amount of additional good would have been done to the glory of God, what a deepening of fellowship right through the Household of Faith, what a strengthening of the bonds of the gospel.


But he - my exemplar - did this in his quiet unselfconscious way because he had the intention to do it. Just that!

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IT is, or should be, almost a platitude in Christadelphian circles that "we are members one of another.” People go to church - if they do! - and, service ended, they get up from their seats and go home, with hardly a word spoken to anyone. Those who read this are accustomed to something very different - warm handshakes (plenty of them), and a big proportion of the congregation still be seen, fifteen minutes after the concluding prayer, standing around talking hard and perhaps having to talk loud because there is so much of it.


This is good. But it is only the elementary expression of a mutual brotherly concern that could well go a good deal further:


"Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Phil. 2:4).


"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (Rom. 15:1, 2).




Timothy was not without his failings, but among his fine qualifications as a fellow-worker with Paul in the gospel was this: "I have no man like minded, who will naturally care for your state" (Phil. 2:20). Paul had a splendid team of helpers, but in this one respect Timothy surpassed all the rest. What a vast amount of unchronicled good this young man must have accomplished through the diffused influence of a ready personal concern and a natural charming friendliness. He had a flair, and he used it. Paul saw to that.


Constantly the apostle rubbed in this practical lesson, that a true and worthy disciple of the Lord will go through life ever on the alert to give a helping hand - practically, spiritually - to a brother who could do with it.


"Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" (1 Cor. 10:24).


Here when Paul says "wealth", he means neither dollars nor sterling. And in everything the aim and intention is to be not just certain breezy mateyness, but "edification".


In an ecclesia of good tone the Arranging Brethren will never relax from alertness and concern regarding the individual members of the flock entrusted to their care, for this side of their responsibility is vastly more urgent than new paint on the hall door or the catering for the next fraternal gathering. These other things are trivialities, yet they tend to get more than their share of attention simply because they are more straightforward and do not involve awkward personal situations.


There are, alas, some ecclesias where the hall drapes and the amplification system are faithfully dealt with, and then the elected brethren go home feeling that they have fulfilled their responsibilities.


Then all the more reason why others who have no ecclesial office or title of any sort should take upon themselves to be unofficial ecclesial watchdogs. Two or three kindred souls of this kind, appointing themselves as an informal vigilance committee and going into action without appearing to do anything, can within a year or two work wonders in the spiritual life of the body of Christ.


Let it be underlined again. This is not a matter of complaining to the Rec. Bro. about shortage of hooks in the cloakroom or asking none-too-good-tempered questions about the draught in the back left-hand corner of the hall.


"Members one of another"


Rather, it has to do with alertness to note that self-conscious brother X is lonely in the midst of the ecclesial hubbub when everybody is talking to everybody except him.


It means taking note of the fact that a certain family has quietly broken off its attendance at Bible Class. What sort of tactful reminder or encouragement is called for, and who is it who is best qualified to go about such a delicate task?


Does Brother Y know just how much his lusty but somewhat unmusical singing reduces the pleasure and value of the service for some of his fellows?. The ecclesial elders could never do anything about a problem of that sort. But a brave kindly ever-so-tactful sister might, without doing damage persuade him to be rather less vigorous or even to be contemplatively silent!


And there is that sensitive young student, an eager boy, who got hurt when being put in his place rather brusquely the other day by Brother Z ("forty years in the Truth, my lad!"). A friendly chat about his studies, or (better still) about his Bible studies, or about his activities in the Youth Circle - some deliberate effort on these lines, helped on by an encouraging smile, can be balm of Gilead doing its healing work all unperceived.


There is no end to the possibilities for good to be wrought by careful kindly well-intentioned individuals who go about their self-appointed tasks in the right spirit. But always the watchword must be "For Edification", not "For Self-assertion".

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THE very essence of our Faith is knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. None would wish to argue that it behoves all true believers to learn as much about him as it is possible to know. This is a truism.


How odd, then, that our early Christadelphian tradition should have had such a different emphasis. It is easy to see why this was so. In the nineteenth century, Methodists and Salvation Army did their best to turn faith in Christ into something verging on sentimentality, and the early brethren reacted from this strongly. Also, they found that basic truths which orthodoxy has neglected or perverted were often more readily expounded from Genesis or the prophets or the epistles. Also, their fervour regarding the Second Coming and the Kingdom took them enthusiastically into deep researches in the complexities of latter-day prophecy.


So the Gospels and much of the life and teaching of our Lord got neglected. Zechariah and Daniel and Revelation were a tremendous challenge, and became staple diet. It somehow wasn't recognized that the Sermon on the Mount and the discourses in John's gospel present just as big a challenge - in a different kind of way.


Helps presently available


It is true that R. R., realising that things were a bit out of balance, wrote "Nazareth Revisited", but that attempt at a life of Christ was hardly his most successful achievement. He was far too busy a man for a task of that sort.


More recently, attempts have been made to make good our lack. Brother Melva Purkis's study is beautiful and sympathetic, but lacks detail. L. G. S. bequeathed two splendid books - on Mark's Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount - but these are not exactly easy reading, and some would say the same about J. C. on John's Gospel and the latest effort on Mark by A. D. N And no one knows better than the present writer how much has been left undone in "Studies in the Gospels.”




Here then is a plea that, worldwide, Christadelphians get down to a really serious dedicated detailed study of the Five Gospels (for the O. T. - Psalms especially - can add enormously to our insight into the person and teaching of our Lord). Without any possibility of demur, such a study is vastly more needful and will prove to be more profitable than the same amount of time spent on principles and details of the Law of Moses or the intricate reasoning of the Epistle to the Romans or the baffling symbolism of the Apocalypse (this is written, out of strong conviction, by one who has spent a good deal more time than most of his readers on all of these splendid topics).


The Gospels are all right for kids in Sunday School, are they? It is high time that that tacit assumption be let go. Thank God, the Gospels are wonderfully good fare for youngsters. But they are also the most profound and most compressed narratives ever written - and they were written in the first instance for mature adults. There is here another reason why we should all of us be busy as beavers studying the Gospels - such a study is immensely rewarding, no matter what may be the qualifications (or lack of same) in the student, whether these include familiarity with the text or linguistic ability or powers of analysis or acquisition of learned accessories. At any level, the study of the Gospels is a better spiritual investment of time and effort than anything else that can be suggested.


How many hundreds of hours are needed to cover, with appropriate concentration and investigation, the three large volumes of Eureka? Put that amount of time into poring over the text of the Gospels, and the result will certainly be more abiding interest, more continuing zest, more real insight into the purpose of God, more familiarity with the text of the whole volume of Holy Scripture, and more intimacy with Christ our Lord than the other study could possibly yield.

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Then how go about it? There are various methods available. You can study one Gospel at a time. You can study themes -miracles, parables, discourses, O. T. connections, characters -but probably the most rewarding is to take all four gospels together, with the help of a good harmony. By this method it is possible to gain great enlightenment through weaving together two, three, or four narratives. And there is also the gain of historical perspective and development which so often goes sadly neglected.


It is important always to read and ponder, asking a question about every facet of these winsome records. Many of your questions will go unanswered, perhaps for years, but even that experience can do you good.


For instance, has it ever occurred to you to ask these questions?:


a. Was the man healed at Bethesda a "good guy" or a "bad guy"?


b. Why does the eloquent symbol of the fisher, so prominent in the Gospels, disappear from the rest of the NT.?


c. Why did Jesus use different methods of healing - a word, a touch, going to a bedside, healing from a distance, or by some freak method such as Jn. 9, Mk. 5 and 7 and 8?


d. If the miracles in John are signs, what is the healing of the nobleman's son a sign of?


e. Is Mt. 17:21 genuine? And if so, what is the point of it? Explain the penny in the parable.


f. How many explanations can you assemble for Jn. 14:23?


g. Which is the correct one?

Such lists are endless, and a great education.


Imagination -


- is a dirty word in some Christadelphian circles. But when studying the Gospels, forget that, and in your mind reconstruct as fully as you can the baptism of Jesus, Peter's walking on the water, the healing of the woman in the crowd and of the bent woman in the synagogue, the two cleansings of the temple (so different!), the great row with the Pharisees. And even though later on, you may find that your internal TV has supplied you with some wrong details (as all man-made stories about Jesus invariably do), you will nevertheless want to get down on your knees and thank God that He has endowed you with these powers.


If there is to be a Christadelphian reformation, then by all mean let a revived study of the Gospels be part of it. We can do without explorations into God-manifestation, though indeed we ought not, but this other we cannot - must not - do without.

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ON that occasion when I first found myself involved in a discussion about the need for reformation in the Christadelphian Ecclesia, one of the first things I heard said was: "But look what a lot of fine, faithful, utterly dependable brethren and sisters there are! They don't need to be urged in that direction. They live Reformation all their days. "


That is a comment easy to understand and easy to sympathize with. Yet, in fact, it is not true, and if given undue emphasis is capable of doing a vast amount of harm by lulling a fair number into complacency when in reality there is hardly one who is not in need of reformation in some way or other. The best among us suffer from having an idealism that has lost its edge, or else from having one or two blind spots which others could tell us about tactfully, yet they cowardly don't.




No! The first step towards reformation must be a recognition of the universal need for it. There are no exceptions, it is a call which all must take seriously.


That said, the fact remains that whereas every ecclesia has its devoted characters dedicated to sterling service in the Lord's work, utterly dependable from year's end to year's end, there are also others - plenty of them - whose religion is at best half-hearted. And between the two groups there are not a few others who go in fits and starts, sometimes qualifying for one category and sometimes for the other.


The first type attend all, or nearly all, the meetings, and therefore they hear all those stirring practical exhortations designed to stir the sluggish out of their torpor. But they are the people who are not torpid. They are conscientious, often very worried about their own inadequacies, even though they have far fewer than some of the others. These are the people who read the Scriptures with care and regularity. They go pretty often to Fraternal Gatherings and benefit from the fellowship there. They do their bit in a special effort and, better still, on a campaign. And all the time they wish they could screw their own standards of Christian living and dutiful service a bit higher.


Yet, whenever there is special appeal or exhortation that the girding of loins be more whole-hearted and resolute, these are the hearers or readers who are made miserable by such reminders of their own inadequacy. The others who most of all need such spiritual jolts do not get them. They do not hear because they are not in the congregation to listen. They do not read because either they are not readers or else they are given to reading the wrong stuff.


The Baptist


This, then, is a mighty serious problem - how to get the message over to those who are not there at the receiving end.


John the Baptist had his own kind of solution. He held open-air meetings, not in the market-place or the shopping precinct, not in the temple area or the park, but in the wilderness! And people of all classes went to him there - not just the earnest souls, given to worrying about the mediocre quality of their godliness, but also the other sort: the selfish well-off, the publicans, soldiers (probably recruited into Barabbas's growing gang of rebels), harlots, and even learned Pharisees and Sadducees. These were the people who really needed to hear a call to repentance, and they came and they heard.


How did John do it?


The answer is: He had two secret weapons which we don't have. One, power from heaven, a burning inspiration such as no modern Christadelphian has ever known. Two, a personality which by comparison makes the most dynamic of us a water colour painted with milk.


Agreed, then, we have no John the Baptist. Then, what alternative?

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Hezekiah's intense sincerity


Hezekiah, newly come to the throne, the heir to as bad a situation as any man could expect to inherit, saw clearly that reformation was the only answer. "So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah.” They "passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun.”


That circular letter of Hezekiah's was a stirring piece of work. Surely all the tribes would respond to the wisdom and sincerity which inspired it. But no! "Divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.” But others "laughed them (the messengers) to scorn, and mocked them.” So what the good king hoped would be a nationwide reformation actually made its impact on only a faithful remnant.


Today, after the manner of Hezekiah, similar missives have gone out and still go out to every family in the New Israel, reminding of the special spiritual perils of our time and of the grievous sin of indifference. It must be all or nothing. "He that is not with me (when in his baptism he has proclaimed his intention of yielding staunch loyalty) is against me.”


Will there be the same extreme of negative response as in Hezekiah's day? Thank God, no! There will be no mockery, no laughing to scorn.


But there may well be plenty of indifference or self-excuse (the same sin painted a different colour). Many will still go completely untouched simply because they do not even bother to read. The printed appeal to every family is a device of diminishing profitability. Human nature sees to that. Then what?


Sharing the good intention


Those who do take such an appeal seriously need also to go a step further and take it seriously to others who, they suspect might, if left to themselves, remain casually indifferent. I am my brother's keeper. Therefore I have a duty to seek his well-being in any way open to me.


Clearly, any effort made to reinforce the good work of others has to be done in the right spirit and by the right methods. Talking down to people gets nowhere. A hectoring tone or the assumption that one has a right to "lecture" will assuredly be counter-productive. Instead, "let us (you and me together) go up to the mountain of the Lord.”


A sister happened to be near the literature table when a teenager stood casting his eye idly over the titles. She reached for one particular item and put it into his hand. "Read this,” she said, "it's just what you are needing.” He took it, read it, and a week later asked for baptism.


That kind of personal reinforcement of reformation appeal can make all the difference in the world.


There is room for a lot of really profitable private conversation on this theme. Earnest intention to somehow get out of the rut will be found to be catching if it becomes an element of one's unselfconscious talk to others who could do with a dose of the same disease.

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IT is a strange phenomenon. This is pre-eminently the age of leisure, and yet always we lack time for some of the best things in life. In the end of the last century, my father as an 11-year old half-timer in a Lancashire cotton mill put in more hours a week than many a full-time worker of this generation. Yet in spite of today's increase in leisure - and holidays - most of us have no time (and in any case, little inclination) for writing letters. The post office, bullied by powerful trade unions, has added its discouragements in the shape of exorbitant charges and wretched delivery service. And of course it is so much less trouble to pick up a telephone and talk such exhilarating platitudes as: "How are you? We're fine. Is it raining at your end?"


It can hardly be denied that a gracious element of fellowship has gone out of life. Yet, since we Christadelphians subsist on and for fellowship, something should be done to maintain, or re-capture, the best features of that old way of life. It can mean so much more to us than to other people.


The old folks


There are two age groups who should take this activity specially seriously. The retirees or senior citizens or whatever current jargon calls them are specially well-placed to exercise a wholesome cheering influence by their writing of one letter per day, or per week, according to personal flair and circumstances. Many such people have the time, and also the ability and experience to put together a worthwhile readworthy letter without undue effort (though it has also to be recognized that there are plenty for whom the writing of a good letter is as big a task as the compiling of an encyclopaedia would be to others; this chapter is not written for such!).


"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." As age lengthens and years shorten, personal contact with old and valued friends - by letter if not in person - becomes more precious. Also, retirees, when writing to friends of the younger generation, have so much wisdom and experience of life to pass on, that it would be a shame to neglect such a means of exercising good personal influence.


I have known just one or two such correspondents who have made it a practice to include in every letter written to a brother or sister in Christ some brief but stimulating observation on a Bible passage of outstanding interest; an illuminating cross-reference, or a useful Bible comment gleaned from recent reading. Would that this habit were widespread among Christadelphians!


Young people away from home


The other age group referred to are the young people who by job, college, or marriage are taken away from the home that reared them. These in their twenties or late teens have a special duty to keep in regular touch with the folks at home. The keeping of the commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother", which Scripture nowhere abrogates for those who are over sixteen, should find its best expression, for those who are away from home, in an unfailingly regular letter home once a week. The occasional phone call, for which Dad is invariably expected to pay, is a barely adequate alternative - unless you first make a careful list of all the interesting comments and enquiries and items of news that you deem worth mentioning.


This laziness of the rising generation and casual indifference to those who nurtured them is something to marvel at, and also to deplore. Presumably it is the self-centredness or maybe thoughtlessness, of youth, often not easily outgrown, which is responsible for the readiness to divorce oneself from home.


"But life is busy. I'm so short of time. And anyhow there's never anything of real interest to say. Whatever could I tell them that could possibly make a readable letter once a week?" This is the gist of the usual self-excuse. Which just shows how blind the most percipient of our bright young things can be! Why isn't it obvious to them that everything in their life, no matter how unimportant, is of absorbing interest to parents? This is a fact. Therefore letters home should be made up of chatty items of detail, lots of detail, however scrappy or trivial they may seem.


A weekly letter of this sort, scribbled off in half an hour or less is not much to ask from those who have been cared for and nurtured for years without ever a word of thanks thought of or expected.

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No answers!


It is not inappropriate here to mention the fine example of one brother who, after he was married and his mother left a widow, living within fairly easy reach, never let a day go by without a few minutes' visit or, if he was away from home, a daily postcard close-written.


There are those who feel quite hurt and indignant if an answer to a letter is not received. This is a species of small-mindedness to beware of. To be sure, it is (usually) a pleasurable thing to receive letters, provided they are not from the income tax office, but it is a poor sort of friendship which feels hurt if a letter evokes no response.


All sorts of reasons may exist, not the least being the fact that for some people sitting down to write a letter, even to a close friend, can be as unwelcome a chore as washing dishes. So if you suspect that the one to whom you write falls into that category, it is a kindly gesture to conclude with: "Don't bother to reply; I expect you are busy" - or something of that sort.


Letters to sick folk are among one's highest duties. They are also among the most difficult, for on the one hand there is the danger of being over-sympathetic, in a sugary sort of way; and on the other hand it is possible to convey such an impression of your own busy healthy life as to do the suffering recipient more harm than good. Unless the patient is in very low condition, probably the best plan is to send as readable a mixture as possible of comments on recent Bible reading and details of interest concerning the ecclesia and mutual friends.


The angry letter


There are certain letters which it is best not to write, ever. In one of his essays Dean Inge laid it down as an irrefragable rule: "Never write an angry letter!" There is much practical wisdom in this. If you must give expression to your violent indignation, then it is only fair to allow the one you are lambasting the opportunity of self-extenuation or immediate apology or equally vigorous riposte. In any case the chances are that six months later the memory of your outburst will bring the red of regret and perhaps of shame to your cheeks.


"As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” And this stands true when instead of person to person the medium of communication is a letter - but only provided the water is smooth as glass. If, on the other hand, the surface is ruffled, what a weird and undesirable distortion is presented!


So, by all means write your angry letter, but then put it away for a few days. When you bring it out again and re-read, you will not need that famous dean of St. Paul's to tell you to tear it up.


And the same goes for indignant letters to the editor. If you happen to be disgusted and live at Tunbridge Wells, don't count on the editor to save you from your own indiscretion. Yet, in general, it is fairly true that readers of journals write readily enough to express vigorous disagreement, but only rarely in appreciation. The emphasis needs to be more the other way round.

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"LORD what fools these mortals be!" It is hardly a Bible notation - but it might well be, for nowhere do the Scriptures express anything but contempt for human wisdom and human judgement, as well as (of course) human behaviour. After writing a long catalogue of the fruits of human cleverness, Isaiah throws the whole lot into the garbage bin with the words: "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of". David was even more withering: "Man at his best state is altogether vanity.” It would be difficult to be more damaging than that.


It may have been a typical bit of Mark Twain fun when he wrote something to this effect: "Whatever else, if you tell me that he is a human being, you need tell me nothing more; that is all I need to know. He can't be any worse!" But behind that wisecrack there is an awful lot of truth.


The Book of Proverbs has more variegated epigrams than any book on earth in the searing things it has to say about human folly.


So it should be a plain and easy lesson for the man of God to learn that he needs to be constantly suspicious of the validity of human judgements. The world is far more often wrong than right.


Yet just because the world is too much with us, in all kinds of ways it succeeds in imposing its "wisdom" on us. Through forgetting how warped human nature is, we may all too easily allow ourselves to be brain-washed into accepting worldly attitudes or evaluations.


Here are three examples which surely deserve to be re-considered.




By general consent western society has come to the conclusion that when a man is getting on in years he is entitled to make the rest of his life a quiet self-indulgent holiday. At first they said: "When you get to 70,” Now the figure is set at 65; and already, not uncommonly at 60. "Soul, thou hast much goods (and a pension) laid up for many years. Take thine ease Eat, drink, and be merry. "


So all the old routine is let go. And in its place, there is a bungalow by the seaside or a cottage in the country. (America and Canada have their own equivalents of these). Now, instead of "the rat race", as it was contemptuously referred to, there is the intensely useful and satisfying life of taking the dog for a walk, disbudding the chrysanthemums, and re-decorating the spare bedroom.


Yet God's law for old age could hardly have been more clearly expressed than this: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground...” In other words, a man is to work till he drops.


To be sure, he is not called upon to go on working at the same job. Failing physical powers or flagging mental alertness will almost certainly preclude that. But clearly the divine law implies a continuing life of usefulness as long as such is in any way possible.


To what extent, it may well be asked, is this divine law for our ageing society being taken seriously?


The last Will and Testament of -


Without any special design, the second example also concerns old age.


When they die, most people have money, goods, and chattels, which, whether they wish or no, they are unable to take with them. So a man makes his will: "The Last Will and Testament of Billy Muggins". And in 19 cases out of 20 the good Christadelphian leaves all, or nearly all, that he has gotten to his kith and kin - his children usually. If those children are married and having a difficult time of it raising a family, that is all very well. But in these affluent times how often is that the case? Isn't it the constant grouse of the old folk that when their children married they refused to be satisfied with anything less than a home at least as well equipped as that which it had taken their parents long long years to get together?


Then if the next generation, themselves now coming on towards middle age, are comfortably off, with good homes and incomes and prospects, is it wise to load them with temptation by leaving them an unneeded windfall? If we are really sincere, and not hypocrites, in lamenting the dangerous materialism of our times, must we show our intense love for our children by guaranteeing that they are well-loaded with temptation? How many fairly well-off parents give a thought to considerations of this sort?


In any case, whose is that money which inevitably must figure fairly largely in your will? There is nothing that a man has which did not come to him by the grace and kindness of God. Then, when making a will, ought not the first consideration to be: In what ways can my present prosperity be directed to the service of God who has been so good to me all my days?


An even better policy than this is to set about giving away one's bank balance to the glory of God before death hands that opportunity to others. It seems that a few fine Christadelphians -though not very many - have gone about things in this way. It is, to put it mildly, a pity that this has not become the norm.

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Act of God!


And now a third suggestion which may be confidently counted on to horrify and scandalise nine-tenths of Christadelphians worldwide. This is that our entire community consider what degree of godly wisdom there is in dependence on insurance.


Long ago the world in its wisdom came to the conclusion that it is far better to lean on an insurance policy rather than to have faith in God. Indeed, insurance is necessary, they assume, in order to safeguard against acts of God those who believe in God. There is a power about this logic which leaves the present writer bemused.


Scores of Bible passages bear witness to the truth that the key virtue in the Christian life is faith in God, the God who controls storm and earthquake and without whom not even an obscure sparrow falls to the ground. Yet we flatly refuse to believe that the same God can overshadow us with all the care we need and that He will bring into our lives only such cataclysm or adversity as is good for us (or for others who know us). And so we take out insurance policies to indemnify us against the damaging results of fire or ill-health or "accident". At a very conservative estimate there must be at least a million pounds a year of God-given money being paid out by Christadelphians to thriving insurance companies who gladly pay back a small proportion of that fairly useful sum to compensate the few who have been hit by uncontrollable contingency.


Who shows most business shrewdness here? - those who share the faith of Abraham, or the directors of the insurance companies?


Since faith is undoubtedly a precious commodity in the sight of Almighty God and since justification to everlasting life is only through the exercise of faith, it may be taken as axiomatic that any deliberate choice in life which calls for the exercise of faith, or which puts the strain on what "little faith" there is, is a choice that God is glad to see.


"Lord, bid me that I come to thee on the water!"


"Peter, stop behaving like a fool! You know you'll sink! And what's the good of it anyway?" So, doubtless, said one or more of the others in that precarious little ship.


But Jesus said: "Come,” and very soon was reproving Peter not for being foolhardy, but for not having more faith than he did have.


Of course, someone, attempting a reductio ad absurdum of the present thesis, has already muttered: "That means no Christadelphian car-driving, for it is against the law of the land to drive uninsured.”


The conclusion does not necessarily follow, for there are those who regard their car-insurance as a special payment of tribute exacted by the government in return for permission to drive a car on the roads. This, surely, is how men of God will view this particular aspect of the problem.


The entire question, mentioned here only sketchily, is worth thinking out carefully. One has the impression that most of us just accept the conventional view without even stopping to ask a few questions. The world, with its usual slick cleverness, has sold us the idea without us even being aware that we have been conned.

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The family of the Lord Jesus thought the situation quite absurd. All day long he had been so beset by the crowd that he couldn't find time for a meal. Time for preaching, time for wonderful healings, time even for disputation with his adversaries - but no time for food! He must have gone out of his mind. It's high time we got him home (Mk. 3: 20, 21, 31).


That is how a perfectly normal situation appeared to his own folk. And right up to the present day some disciples of the Lord - not many! - have been written off as quite unbalanced because they have chosen to drive themselves hard in the Father's service.


Now and then the Twelve had a taste of this exhilaration, and found themselves being carried away by the excitement of it all. The startling character of the message about Jesus, the marvellous power which the Holy Spirit imparted, the thrill of being always beset by awestruck crowds, made them feel as though they could keep going for ever.


But Jesus, watching them with all the careful attention a mother gives to her baby, and alert for signs of fatigue, knew when they had enough: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat" (Mk. 6: 31).


"Take care of yourself!"


Alas, far too often that solicitude of the Lord for his workers has been miscopied by soft-hearted disciples. An over-anxious sister took a vigorous young brother to task for taking on such a full programme of activities: "Too often", she complained, "we have had useful brethren burning themselves out by trying to do too much. Soon you'll be no good at all in the Lord's work, and all through unreasonably attempting too much now!"


So kind, so considerate, yet so mistaken, as that brother was to observe in later days: "The work went on, the pressure did not ease up. But (he added with a wry smile) that prophesied collapse hasn't come yet. And why hasn't it? Because if a man wants to carry on, God gives him the strength to do so. "


Yet how many brethren excuse themselves from a more dedicated life, or are encouraged by an over-solicitous wife to pity themselves, on the ground that modern life is too full of pressure. Ceaseless strain at work, wretched travelling conditions to and from - such surely qualify a man for a quiet evening at home with his feet up. And the ecclesial Bible Class won't miss him anyway.


But that Bible Class does miss him. And, without his being aware of the fact, he is the poorer for missing it. In plenty of ecclesias, it needs only half a dozen members to cosset themselves with this kind of self-pity, and the Bible Class is in a state of collapse.

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The challenge of a hard life


This is a soft generation. Compared with our brethren of any earlier period we have wondrous comfortable lives. At the end of last century, working conditions and working hours were universally more taxing than they are today. And walking two or three miles to and from work, in all weathers, was a commonplace. Yet how many who read these words would maintain that our thermometer of zeal and our barometer of performance stand higher now than they did then?


"How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?" complained Moses. Yet he did.


"There continues to come upon me daily the care of all the churches. " Paul mentioned it in passing, near the end of a breath-taking catalogue of things endured for Christ's sake.


And who was it observed that whilst foxes have their dens and birds their nests, himself had nowhere to lay his head?


Said a young brother: "Two years steady application, and I'll have the qualification I'm after. Then, assured of a good steady job I'll have both leisure and energy for the work of the Lord. So I'd be justified, wouldn't I, in dropping all my ecclesial commitments (he mentioned a commendable list) till this exam's out of the way."


He seemed surprised, and perhaps a bit hurt, when I said: "No!" Apparently it hadn't dawned on him that, by a bit of ruthless self-discipline regarding the time-wasting and self-indulgence that young people are always good at, he could pack in all the study that his exam demanded and still fulfil all his current commitments in the ecclesia. He hadn't awakened to the fact that his work for the Lord could prove so refreshing as hardly to merit the description "work". Should it not be itself a relaxation?


A ruthless parable


The Lord Jesus told a parable about a farm labourer who, at the end of a full day's work with plough or cattle, finds himself faced with yet further duties: "Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink.” This done, the servant can now pity himself as an over-worked and under-appreciated minion. Can he?


The parable concludes: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say (not in assumed piety to others, but in sober truth to yourselves). We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which it was our duty to do.”


Unprofitable! That Greek word means "not needed". Here is austerity and a spirit of ruthless honesty which effectively blasts into a thousand pieces any tendency we may have to feel sorry for ourselves or any inclination towards self-congratulation for sustained attention to duty. We are "not needed.”


Then why make the effort?


For two reasons. First, because he is Master and Lord. Calling him this, we say well. And serving him as Master and Lord, we do better.


Second, out of thankfulness that he is our Master and Lord.

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Hezekiah knew human nature well enough to be sure that cleansing the temple and inviting people to Jerusalem for Passover would not be enough in itself. As long as there were false gods around, for so long would they be a lure and a damage. Such was the weakness of human nature, their human nature.


So he began by picking on the one idol that was more sanctified than any other. Here was hoary tradition and undeniable power! Was not the brazen serpent made long long ago by that man of fabulous talent Bezaleel, and at the behest of the great Moses too? And were there not scores of families in Israel who still passed on vivid authentic stories of how some ancestor of theirs was saved by it from certain and agonizing death?


But it had to go. Hezekiah knew that right well. So he treated it as Moses treated the golden calf, smashing it up and, after gathering up the fragments that nothing be lost, he again did what Moses did - he threw the lot into the stream that came down from the mount of the Lord. Let the God-given Water of Life wash this evil out of the life of his people.


More than that, Hezekiah ran a propaganda campaign against it, that there be no reverence attached to its memory. He taught the nation to call it Nehushtan, a name that is susceptible of several translations, but all of them derogatory or openly contemptuous. "Second Serpent", perhaps, to remind everyone of the evil wrought in Eden. But more likely: "That Brass Thing". Without faith in the God of Israel, that's all it was I in Moses' day, and in Hezekiah's.


And today.




If there is to be reformation among the New Israel of God, the worship of man-made things must go. And, by general consent the most imperious idol of the lot is the telly. Of course there are plenty of others - already mentioned in earlier chapters - but none is so compelling, so futile, so utterly insidious as this thing.


It seduces into endless time-wasting. And even when you know that one programme has been nothing but sustained futility, you are beguiled into more sitting and staring by a confident expectation that the next programme will be a lot better. And especially at the end of the day you are oftentimes lured into enjoyment of a late programme when you know that you should be asleep; and thus you guarantee to start the next day in the wrong gear.


But some of these programmes are simply not to be missed. So informative! So uplifting! Yes, and you take care to talk about these to your brethren after the meeting. But you are equally careful not to mention the vastly bigger proportion of other programmes which were at best mildly entertaining and at worst a sheer waste of time.


Nay, at worst they are a sordid defilement which should have been switched off as soon as their real character became evident.

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Save the children!


And before the children go to bed they too get tanked up with "aural alcohol. " Shooting, knifing, strangling, and all the apotheosis of bloodlust - they see and hear it all. And their parents rejoice that they are quiet and out of mischief, and being made into good little Christadelphians. "Suffer the little children to come unto me..." But they don't want to, Lord! they are watching the telly.


And when they come into their teens, which should still be an age of innocence, there is nothing they don't know - and think about when at last they are hounded off to bed. Television is such an efficient medium of education!


Of course, it is. No argument about that. Most people learn far better by eye than by ear. Television puts the two together. What could be better? A well-experienced teacher of young children tells me that television-reared youngsters are better informed than their deprived playmates.


Well, suppose that's true! Isn't it also true that those poor deprived ones have been kept from a lot of foul soul-warping influences? And it certainly is true that when those youngsters come to the real business of education, which has to be done through hard personal application to books, and not through enervating pictures, the non-telly child will be way ahead because that's what he's already used to. More than this, he will be much more apt with his Bible.




All sorts of apologies can be made for television, have been made - in the pages of Christadelphian magazines too. The shrill protest is heard: "Why pick on those who like to have TV? Are there not plenty of other abuses that need excoriation? Bad books, bad newspapers. Then why hypocritically go for television, and ignore the others?"


This is very illogical logic. Because there are other evils, shall we therefore blithely tolerate the worst of them all?


No doubt in Hezekiah's day there were some who said: "But that brazen serpent is a masterpiece, the handiwork of the greatest artist of all time. Its destruction would be an obscenity. Besides, it is so ancient. Our people have treasured it for 700 years. And if it survived all through the years of Joshua and Samuel and David, it can't be as bad as all that. Who does our new young king think he is?"


Strong action


But Hezekiah knew what he was doing when he went for the biggest evil of the lot. All reformations have to start that way. And if Christadelphians are to have their much-needed reformation, here is their Nehushtan.


To be sure, there are plenty of other idols. When Hezekiah destroyed the brazen serpent, his people quickly got the message and proceeded to such a rampage of idol-smashing as had never been seen in Israel. Please God, that will happen in our time also.


It will have to. The Lord Jesus has told us so, using some of his strongest language:


"If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” But he refuses to do it for us.


"But, Lord, I don't want.” So also said Lot's wife. With two eyes we may enjoy the sights of Sodom. With two eyes also we may share Sodom's Gehenna of fire.

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Get any of the old folk talking about the war, and sooner or later they will begin to pile one recollection on top of another about the austerity of the life they lived - had to live - in those drab years. "Make do and mend" was the governing principle regarding everybody's clothes. Nobody, except royalty, looked smart. They just put up with what they'd got.


And food, though not much limited in quantity, was wondrous stodgy and unappetising. The sheer lack of variety and piquancy was such as people could hardly imagine today.


Yet in those austerity years the nation was healthier than it had ever been.


The modern philosophy


Today you would expect that runaway inflation would bring vast numbers of people back to the plain simple wholesome-ness of food and clothes that Uncle Adolph imposed during those dreary war years.


But no! Everybody seems to have money to spend, and they spend it prodigally - on themselves!


This is the very backbone of modern philosophy - that life owes you a good time, so see that you get it.


In this way, by slow imperceptible degrees, the present generation of Christadelphians has been kidded - "conned" is the fashionable jargon, I believe - into adopting similar standards of selfishness.


Never did those who are in the world but not of it manage to emphasize their separateness by such wholehearted self-indulgence on food and drink, clothes, cars, holidays, pastimes, fine homes, and all the impressive gadgetry that alluring glossy magazines and slick television shots display.


The Christ pattern


To be sure, God did encourage, nay, command His people to have jolly self-indulgent harvest festivals - their Feast of Tabernacles. But such occasions came just once a year, and were strongly God-centred. And at those times all - rich and poor alike - lived in booths fashioned by themselves, not in four-star hotels.


If there should be any people in all the world given to the simple life, it should surely be those who deem themselves to be disciples of that wandering preacher who had not where to lay his head. Yet in everything to do with the material comforts and joys of life, is it possible to distinguish those who are disciples from those who are not?


In Pennsylvania the descendants of early religious immigrants still go on making their protest against modern flashiness by continuing the old out-moded way of life - long skirts, clothing of a drab hue, the horse instead of the internal combustion engine, and so on. But the virtue has gone out of even this old-time life, because now all this is done by time-honoured rule and not from inner conviction. Thus human nature succeeds in spoiling even its own best intentions.

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Modern trends


Taking a long cool look at the modern Christadelphian way of life, can it possibly be maintained that our spending habits area clear reflection of a spirit of other-worldly dedication to a life of high spiritual endeavour?


Consider the lavish richness of the food provided at many a Fraternal Gathering. Glance round a Sunday morning meeting, and ask yourself, why such "fine raiment.” Is this a worshipping of the Lord "in the beauty of holiness"? Even if that phrase means "in holy array" (which is very very doubtful), how many of the brethren and the sisters present have got themselves up smartly that particular morning intending that it be to the glory of God?


It is indeed a thing not to be argued that as a community we would be all the better for a little more emphasis on austerity and self-denial in the kind of life we live.


The spirit of the Gospel


Everyone who reads these words is already familiar with such Scriptures as these:


"Whose adorning let it not be that outward appearance of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel..."


"... in modest apparel... not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array... "


"He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath food, let him do likewise.”


Agreed, there are certain difficulties and problems about how we should put these words into practice. But the spirit of these Scriptures is not to be missed. And most of us would be none the worse for a little quiet heart-searching (and wardrobe and deep-freeze searching) as to whether we put these principles into practice at all.


Rules and regulations


Let it be remembered, though, that ours is not a religion of rules and regulations regarding such outward matters, save what rules and regulations we each personally frame for ourselves. This is one of the glories of our Faith, and must not be interfered with.


Yet it comes to one's knowledge that there is at least one ecclesia (not in Britain!) where brethren are expected to wear dark suits (nor are these to be enlivened by gay ties!); and sisters are frowned upon if their skirts do not terminate below the knee and above the ankle.


If such rules are accepted by all as part of a unanimous protest against worldly fashion, fine! But if this uniform adoption of unworldly styles is the result of dictatorship, then it is much to be deplored.


Why? why?


Motive, motive is the thing that is all-important in this field of Christian discipline. "Lust of the eyes, pride of life" - these are what make us outwardly like the world. Why do I want to spend on new clothes? Why are we so eager to indulge in this lavish expensive party? Why that immense conglomeration of cosmetics on the bathroom or bedroom shelf? Why must I have a different camera with twice as many clever contrivances and at four times the price of the old one?


"I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” There's the secret. A spirit of contentment. Less materialism. And a constant feeling of thankfulness to Almighty God for what we have already.

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ONE of the best-known Christadelphians in the world wrote rather sadly: "The fact has to be faced, I fear, that we are not a praying community". This was a judgement formed out of long and wide experience. But how could he know? Presumably, from personal conversations, and even more from the quality of our public prayers.


One imagines that very few would be disposed to disagree strongly with such an assessment. But, at least, if we are aware of this spiritual deficiency there is some hope that something might be done about it.


In this particular respect, our tradition is not as good as it might have been. This truth was brought home forcefully at a recent Youth Gathering. In that sequence of meetings all the prayers were offered by young brethren with little experience, but it was evident that those boys, of no special reputation in the ecclesias, knew how to pray. And the contrast in phrasing, style, tone made it evident that it was not from their elders that they had learned. They had taught themselves and one another, and - please God - they will yet teach their elders too.


Impromptu - pros and cons


The Christadelphian tradition of impromptu prayer from the platform and of calling on brethren in the congregation to lead in prayer probably came into existence in the early days as a reaction from the formal set prayers, beautiful in phrasing yet so often empty in spirit, which are normal in the stablished church. Alas, several of our Christadelphian traditional practices are traceable to the reaction which, in effect, says: Orthodoxy does this, therefore it is wrong.


Yet, in this instance, there is good Biblical warrant for both practices. The Book of Psalms was the prayer book of the temple in Jerusalem. Our own modern counterpart to that is the happy acceptance of a number of the Scottish metrical psalms (Robert Roberts was raised in Aberdeen). Would that there were more of them. Neither the Church of Scotland nor the Church of England picks and chooses out of the Psalter as we have done.


But what is the good of praying to God and praising Him in the words of the Psalms if the mind is giving more attention to tune than to words? One recalls hearing rueful confession of lusty but thoughtless singing. But that is another subject.


Paul's counsel


There is also the plain counsel of the apostle Paul: "I will therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands.” And this is a practice to be followed "without wrath and disputing" (1 Timothy 2: 8 R. V.) - prayer, in other words, is not a thing to argue about.


The men are to pray, and "in every place.” This, of course, does not mean in the office and the shopping precinct and the garden and the park and the garage (though doubtless there are often times when prayer should be offered in all these places). What Paul meant here is that not only those on the platform but also those in any place in the congregation may be called upon for prayer. Here is the vindication of our modern practice which at first so often startles those not accustomed to it.


But we go only part way with Paul. "Lifting up holy hands" is a custom honoured in the breach and not at all in the observance; it is done in theory perhaps, in the spirit doubtless, but not in practice. There is certainly room for adoption of this apostolic custom, especially in those ecclesias where arrangements to help the partially deaf are so unsuitably done that the brethren seem to pray to a microphone.

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Prayer or performance?


Obviously what is much more important than posture in prayer is the attitude of mind which one brings to this highly responsible role. Far too many brethren, it is suspected, are more conscious of the assembly they are praying for than of the God they are praying to, and thus the prayer becomes a performance. This attitude, which aims at impressing rather than expressing is often readily perceptible by members of the congregation, and when that happens the prayer is poisoned. Strange fire before the Lord!


Quantity or Quality?


In their prayers brethren - and young brethren especially -often confuse quality with quantity. Yet there is no special virtue in making a prayer go on a long time. "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5: 2). This is good counsel which doubtless related, in the first instance, to the taking of vows or the use of oaths, but the principle is certainly sound in the wider field also. "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin" (Proverbs 10: 19).


"Our Father"


The Lord's pattern prayer is a model of brevity and conciseness. One of our finest brethren was once heard to take each phrase of the Lord's Prayer in turn, and turn that into a small prayer in itself. As result that prayer went on a good long while, but in every way those petitions were so superbly expressed, and so humbly, that only a boor could react with impatience or a critical spirit. In this instance, there was only a spirit of thankfulness that one was being given such a strong helping hand into the divine presence.


There was also the Breaking of Bread service when the late C. C. Walker was called on to offer thanks for the Cup, and did so with exceptional brevity - three sentences, at the most; yet how effective those well-chosen words were! One could not help feeling thankful for the prayer and the prayer, as well as for the Wine about to be shared.




But how, as a community, we run to words, words, words. Some brethren spoil their well-intentioned efforts in this direction, without realising it, by saying everything three times What a contrast with the prayer our Lord gave us!


Some ecclesias have an admirable custom of beginning their Sunday morning service with a short prayer of dedication, the more comprehensive prayer coming later on after the Bible reading. But one observes with dismay that there is often a tendency for this first prayer to proliferate beyond a half-minute of communal consecration into something dangerously close to verbal display. Again - words, words, words!

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WHEN it comes to the phrasing of public prayers, there are two extremes to be avoided. The one - a special danger to the younger generation - is the temptation to use up-to-the-minute slangy or chatty phraseology. This is unseemly and irreverent. A young brother with a bent of this kind needs to listen to himself, or - better still - invite comment from someone who is close enough as a friend to be able to speak frankly.


The "modern" style


A widespread modern development, not entirely successful, perhaps because learned from our "with it" contemporaries, is the substitution of "you" for "Thou" and "Thee" when addressing the Almighty. The reason for this twentieth-century fashion is difficult to appreciate. So far as one can tell, it springs from the current assumption that Bible language is difficult because archaic. But what is there difficult about "Thee" and "Thou"? Is there one English-speaking individual in a hundred thousand incapable of grasping the meaning of these simple, if old-fashioned, pronouns?


It needs to be pointed out also that hardly any brother who has fallen for this style of prayer shows himself able to carry it off successfully. Almost invariably there is a sorry mix-up between "Thee" and "You" and "Thou". Even well-educated brethren, who should have verbal skill enough, manage to get tangled up.


Far better to stick to the old forms. There is a certain reverence about these. And is it not seemly that the Almighty should have reserved for Himself a pronoun which is nowadays not used for any ordinary person?


Trite phrasing


A far worse feature of many many prayers is the loading of its petitions with meaningless Christadelphian clichés, phrases which through countless vain repetitions have lost all meaning such threadbare expressions as "strive earnestly" (utterly un-Biblical both in form and idea), "hear and bless us", "guide and keep us", "give him mouth, matter, and wisdom", and that special Christadelphian preposition "in-and-through". Some of these may have served well in their time, but the depreciation which inevitably affects all well-used verbal currency has certainly had a deleterious influence. Every ecclesia has its own special crop of these clichés, every individual his own besetting vocabulary which has the mastery of him. Yet the honour of God in heaven and the spiritual well-being of our brethren on earth alike call for something better than this.


A partial cure for this endemic weakness may be found in a few minutes dedicated now and then to the writing out of prayers. This is hard work, but a discipline which pays big spiritual dividends, for self and for others. Some brethren, overly conscious of their own limitations in this field and semi-paralysed by "nerves", go a step further and regularly carry with them two or three prayers already written out. This is better than making a turgid, uninspiring bungle of things. But better still is the resolution to learn how to pray impromptu through the short but heartfelt exercise of the best one is capable of in this most taxing of all duties. It will come in time, if there is thoughtfulness and prayer about one's prayers! No public prayer should begin without first the silent and intensely felt: "Lord, teach me how to pray!"


Self-conscious prayer


This problem of nervousness, amounting sometimes to a mental "seize-up" is an almost universal affliction. If this were nervousness at being in the presence of God there might be some ground for it - though not much, especially if the prayer begins with: "Our Father". But personal experience and the talk of others suggest that mostly this nervous paralysis springs from an over-consciousness of one's brethren and what they think about the prayer being offered.


It is needful therefore to emphasize in one's thinking that the prayer is being spoken to God. He, and only He, is to be kept in the forefront of one's thought and speaking. As far as possible let the presence of others be forgotten. Then the prayer will be a prayer.


Also, before the prayer begins it is advisable to encourage in one's thinking the idea that the occasion is not important in the sense that it is a formal occasion where everything must be just right and proper. Let it rather be thought of as a family gathering. The fact is that you, the brother who is praying, are not in the midst of a bunch of critics with ears cocked for the slightest slip. Your brethren - all who are present - are on your side; they all of them want you to pray well and worthily, because you are praying for them.

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Some useful negatives


There are one or two warnings which need to be said; such as:


  • Beware of obsessive repetition. Who has not heard the prayer which had "Heavenly Father" in every sentence? The occasional use of "Please, O Lord" can most effectively underline a specially urgent petition, but this repeated a dozen times inevitably loses its power.
  • Never - repeat, never! - tell the Almighty that you are coming into His presence "in great humility". Genuine humility doesn't talk about itself. And in any case, the Lord knows whether you are humble or not.
  • Never speak of the Lord Jesus as "our elder brother". This (though doubtless well-meant) is specially unseemly in prayer and, besides being without Biblical warrant, it is demeaning to his high honour as the Lord of Glory.
  • What about the problem of "for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord"? There are those who believe that no prayer will be heard which does not include these words or their plain equivalent. Just to make sure, some even begin and end their prayers in this fashion. This practice springs from a sadly limited understanding of the Lord's words: "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do" (John 14: 13, 14; 15: 7, 16) The fact is that any true disciple is "in Christ" and prays "in his name,” whether he says so or not. So the formula is not indispensable. Therefore, not always, but often!
  • Some brethren presiding at a Sunday evening meeting seem to think they have not done their duty unless they turn the closing prayer into a recapitulation of the address just concluded, together with a pointed exhortation to the unconverted to do something about it. This - a common fault in some ecclesias - is bad, just plain bad. By all means allude to the discourse, but there is no need to repeat it nor to insult the Almighty by making a prayer offered to Him "in all humility"(!) a good opportunity for renewed preaching at certain people in the congregation.
  • By all means let thought be given to the remarkable neglect of the Lord's Prayer in our services (see also chapter 4). The reason for such deliberate abstention is simple enough - a sharp reaction from the "vain repetition" of orthodoxy. But as a policy this just will not do. Shall we stand for prayer simply because in church they kneel or sit? Or because, two generations ago, they held prayer meetings, shall we never pray? Or, looking at the question differently, is it possible that we deem our own prolix efforts at prayer an improvement on the Lord's conciseness? Shame on us, that our Lord's own prayer should be deemed inadequate or unsuitable!
  • Mention of prayer meetings is a useful reminder that these may fulfil a very fine purpose in ecclesial life (chapter 13). Naturally there is a certain reluctance to be too pointed in specific petitions offered as an ecclesia, but the less formal atmosphere of a handful met together for a session of prayer may provide admirable opportunity for formulating more precisely before God the outstanding needs of the ecclesia and of individuals in it. But even on the platform the more specific a petition is, the better.



A brief word in conclusion about the mental attitude of each member of the congregation at the time of prayer.


First, there should be from every one a brief silent prayer that the brother about to lead the ecclesia before God shall be given heavenly help to frame his prayer wisely and worthily.


This is the least one can do.


Then let there be concentration on each separate item of praise, thanksgiving, or supplication. This is far from easy, especially when the prayer turns out to be a somewhat uninspiring repetition of trite phrases and wordy platitudes. As a small boy, swinging my legs on a hard meeting-room seat, I early learned my own father's method of coping with this wretched tendency to mind-wandering. To every single thing a prayer said He added his own assent by means of a short emphatic nod or, when there was confession of sin, with a self-deprecating rueful shake of the head. Yet even such a practice does not provide an infallible cure.


One brother, discussing the problem, told me: "In every prayer that is offered there is something that is specially of value for me. I wait for that item to come, and fasten on it. Then I repeat it time after time. Much of the rest of the prayer may be lost as far as I am concerned, but at least this bit of it isn't.” Again, not an ideal solution, but not without its usefulness now and then.

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The singing of hymns and anthems has always been and will always be a vital part of our ecclesial services. Then it goes without saying that there is a responsibility upon all to see that this element in our worship be made as much as possible an honour to God and a help to all who participate. In all respects our devotions must be the best we are capable of. There is to be no easy-going tolerance of inferior standards, unless these are past mending.


By far the most important consideration here is summed up in Paul's familiar phrases: "Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord... making melody in your heart to the Lord.”


This is not the place to parade a copious demonstration that the Bible uses the word "heart" where modern speech would say "mind". But without question here is Paul's emphasis on intelligent singing. It is not sufficient just to make a joyful noise. If that were the case we might just as well sing nursery rhymes (for they nearly all have good tunes). What is one to comment regarding the brother who observed that, given a good tune, he wasn't all that particular about the words?


Think about the words


First and last, then, it is imperative that all the worshippers have their minds on what they are singing. There must be concentration not on a sonorous top-note but on what the words say, and on the devotion they express.


It is useful also to observe that in the phrases quoted Paul says "hearts" and also "heart", evidently emphasizing in the one place that each individual mind must be brought to focus its attention on what is being sung, and in the other that there be unison of purpose in this spiritual offering to God, even when the hymn is sung in harmony.


How well Paul stresses the same important reminder that our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (what is the distinction here?) are also for "teaching and admonishing ourselves" (see RVm). Would any gainsay that, when there is due concentration on what the words say, there is more worthwhile practical exhortation to be had from almost any hymn or anthem than from most of the exhortations heard from our ministering brethren?


A brother of wide experience was once heard to say that in all the years one particular hymn at the Breaking of Bread affected him so much that he had not yet succeeded in singing all the verses without "seizing up" emotionally in at least one of them. But he attributed that as much to the power of the words as to the moving quality of the tune.


There are unquestionably some very fine hymns (meaning the words, not the tunes) in our hymnbook, and for these we ought never to cease to be thankful. But there are, alas, some of the other sort in which the words scarcely rise above the level of doggerel. When any of these is appointed to be sung I personally groan inwardly. But experience shows that with other members of my ecclesia these are really well-loved hymns, so there is nothing for it but to try to cultivate a tolerant spirit.


Churchy hymns


From time to time the grumble is heard that such and such hymns ought not to find a place in our devotions at all because they are churchy. This is a short-sighted criticism, for it fails to take account of the fact that from the very earliest days, when Robert Roberts first compiled a Christadelphian Hymnary, this has been the case. We have always had to fall back on orthodox hymn-writers for at least ninety per cent of our devotions.


Those who insist that the latest hymn-book is utterly unsuitable, but that its predecessor, or the one before that had superlative qualities, proclaim their prejudices more than their sense of judgement, whether musical, poetical, or Biblical.


On the other hand, if by common consent an ecclesia judges that certain hymns are not to its taste (for whatever reason) then it should be fairly easy to exclude these by a simple once-for-all instruction to presiding brethren.


Our congregational singing


It is time now to consider briefly the musical quality of our ecclesial singing.


It goes without saying that for the Lord's sake, and for our own also, this must be as good as can be achieved, nothing less than the best we are capable of.


Again, if any thought is given to the words, neither speed nor fulness of tone will be the same for all hymns. Alas, how many ecclesias there are where the most devout sentiments and prayers are sung at the same vigoroso ma non espressivo as all the rest! And in the same ecclesias, usually, all the hymns are sung at the same speed, whether it be "Joy cometh..." or "Short is the measure of our days."

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The situation has been known to arise in which one member of the ecclesia, usually with fairly powerful vocal organs, takes upon himself to express dissatisfaction with the speed at which a certain hymn is sung (or maybe all of them) by singing a note behind, or, more often, a note in front of all the rest. This is bad.


Such individuals fail to grasp that the singing speed should always be set by the accompaniment, so that when there is a crying need for allegretto or adagio it is to that quarter where appeal needs to be made, and not by the method just mentioned.


Some ecclesias are afflicted with a single powerful voice used with more enthusiasm (or self-advertisement) than good sense or consideration. If such an individual must always be in full spate, then by all means let him (her) concentrate on singing the air, so that whatever unmusical imbalance there may be is not quite so disturbing to others.


Harmony - Unison


In earlier generations part singing was the thing in most ecclesias (does anyone remember the old hymnary with tonic solfa and standard notation printed side by side?). Today's impaired standards (and the obvious need for reformation in this relatively minor matter!) have sent part singing into decline, even in the north of England, but there are still plenty of ecclesias where the quality of the praise of God is worthy of its theme.


On the other hand - and this paragraph expresses a personal predilection - it seems a pity that in some hymns, if not in all, either the first verse or the last is not sung in unison. This could be a very effective and helpful feature of our services. There are a few of our hymns where the last verse cries out for a faster speed, but it never gets it.


It is especially in this field where the presiding brother carries a good deal of responsibility for helping the quality of our worship. Some brethren have a positive genius for choosing hymns that are just right in that they chime in with the theme of the rest of the service and accord well with the spirit and singing ability of the congregation.


But we also have the thoughtless ones who, disregarding the limited ability of a nervous (and press-ganged?) accompanist, choose a hymn that is nearly unplayable; or else, equally heedless of what the congregation knows or is capable of, they select a hymn that is too high-pitched or quite unfamiliar. Such presiding brethren do not know their job.


The small ecclesia


How is a small ecclesia to make the best of very limited musical resources? This is a perennial problem. Some soldier on valiantly, and steadily improve themselves, to the glory of God. Others come to terms with the difficulties by limiting their repertoire to what they know is within their capabilities. Certainly it is a good idea, and not at all inglorious, for such ecclesias to concentrate on unison singing.


For such, also, accompaniment of some kind is highly desirable, indeed almost a necessity. If no organist or pianist (or organ or piano) is available, then modern technical resources can save the situation, for it is now a relatively easy matter to get tape-recorded accompaniments; and more than one of our choirs have made quite superb recordings of many of our hymns. Why should not a small ecclesia enjoy being helped in its worship by joining in with what has already been done so splendidly?


In this sector of our devotions there is need for constant awareness and careful thought how we may best improve existing standards. But, first and last, the motive must be right. The aim is not to produce concert standards for their own sake, nor to foster a higher degree of personal enjoyment in the music itself, but to tone up the quality of our worship. Let us show the angels that we are as zealous as they for the glory of God!

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Tell anyone that "Thou shalt not frivol away thy God-given leisure" is one of the Ten Commandments, and you have little prospect of being believed. But it is true nevertheless.


For, just as God appointed a Year of Jubilee to teach men that the Land was theirs not by right but only through mandate from the Almighty, so also He bade them "remember the sabbath day to keep it holy", thereby providing a recurring reminder to His people that their time also belongs to God. The sabbath was designed as a token payment to underline what is really a self-evident truth - that the whole of a man's life really belongs to His Maker.


But how many people feel that way about it? Indeed, how many good Christadelphians have their attitude to the daily round shot through with this kind of thinking?


Whose time? - mine or God's?


In reality, what happens is precisely what C. S. Lewis described in his matchless fashion in "The Problem of Pain":


"We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God's feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day, and God's share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of 'our own' pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel, to be 'our own'. "


This exposure of what is, for the massive marjority of us, a normal way of thinking is, to put it mildly, withering. Kid Lewis pulls no punches.


With many of us the rot sets in not at shaving time but the night before. As a teen-ager I was ever blithely indifferent to what the next day might bring forth. "Tomorrow can look after itself" was not so much my philosophy as my careless indifference. But then one of my friends talked about how always when he got his head on the pillow, he set about planning the next day's activities down to the last detail.


I caught that bug readily enough. There was a splendid gain one way- a greater efficiency and zest in a purposeful day. But it was only years later that I realised how I had also lost through developing an ingrained assumption that every minute of every day was mine to use just as / might choose, for the glory or pleasure of me.


It takes a long time to learn, via plain-spoken C. S. Lewis or blunt William Law, that one's days are too precious to be frittered away in valueless self-entertainment and futile pastimes. Imagine it! we have but three score and ten years, and every day beyond that a special bonus added by gracious dispensation of God's Providence, and in order to make this valuable endowment of time pass the more easily we have to dedicate long hours to television or radio, newspaper or nasty novel, hobby or pass-time.


Time-table re-assessment


All activities (non-activities, really) of this kind need to be brought under careful scrutiny. There is no servant of the Lord now reading these words who, if he will be honest with himself, will not find himself under censure as a dedicated waster of his Employer's time. Could there be a more worthwhile few minutes than those spent in review of how the average week goes by? No need to add: And now make Reformation on the basis of that analysis. For in every case the nett result is bound to be so horrifying that some positive improving reaction is sure to ensue. The odd case where there is no reaction at all is past hope - dedicated, truly, but only to self and self-corruption.


The obvious starting point is a frank assessment of the number of hours spent in bed. There are very few who could not clip half-an-hour or a whole hour off that cosy assignment, to the glory of God. The time spent either in sleep or in indulgent reading in bed is largely a matter of psychology - what we have taught ourselves to be used to: "That's the way I'm made. I need all those hours." The one who says that is rarely telling the truth.

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